All of a sudden Mr. Harper is gung-ho to force an election. Whatever could be on our evil little gnome’s mind? Could it be this: a small case of the panics?
You see, the Tories have been stuck in the polls since they won their minority government back in 2006. And, frankly, they only won what they have now because the Liberals were tearing flesh off of each other in the media and Quebec nationalists were in the doldrums with an inept (and right wing) provincial leader of the PQ managing to thoroughly alienate their base of support.
Those conditions no longer prevail and the window is quickly closing on the possibility of repeating even a minority government.
As of last summer the Tories were at 33% according to a Strategic Counsel poll conducted in August, 2007 and which I analyzed at the time.
Now, according to a Nanos poll, the Tories have slumped another two percent to 31 percent nationally. But in the key province of Quebec they are down to 23 percent, from 29 percent at the last election – and all that support has returned to the Bloc.
In Atlantic Canada the Tories have collapsed even further, from 30 percent on November 8, to 22 percent today. All of that – and a 6-point drop for the Liberals – has gone to the NDP and the Green Party.
Even in the West they’ve been hovering around the 40 percent mark from their high of 49 percent at the last election.
So, why is Harper throwing all these confidence motions at Parliament right now? Why does he appear to be trying to force an election?
What the Tories must have realized is that, by and large, most Canadians think they are odious but bearable creatures. Their only attraction is creating a polarizing issue on their terms, which bumps their numbers. These electoral adrenalin shots quickly subside but they can be enough for an election.
That explains the three things that Harper has said will force an election. The first is an omnibus crime bill. North Americans are notoriously crime paranoid. Conservatives always love the law and order button because it’s irrational and bears no relation to reality. And they are, after all, a movement built on irrational fear and scapegoating. They are the Crazy Party.
If the Tories can grab the mantle of being the law and order party, find some gullible victims of horrendous interpersonal violence, and put them on a stage, their numbers will climb. If they can say that the Liberal dominated Senate is blocking their kooky crime bill, their numbers will climb. It’s a sad truism about western societies, which I’ll save for another day, we’re crime crazy.
The second confidence issue is the budget, which they must bring down soon. Budgets are always confidence votes because they set the major priorities for any government. The Tories already cocked up any political capital they might have gotten from the budget. They did this by refusing to release provincial payments worth $1 billion to help out the rapidly de-industrializing regions of Ontario and Quebec. The condition they placed on the payment was that the budget had to pass, thinking that the Bloc would be forced to support the Tory budget. When they realized that everybody else saw this as crass and vindictive they backed off but the damage was already done.
I suspect that the Tories are hoping they don’t even get to the budget but instead go to an election on either crime or the other confidence motion – Afghanistan.
Now, the Tories are the party of irrational craziness but generally their own strategy is more akin to being crazy like a fox – at least since they ditched Stockwell “Jet Ski” Day as leader. However, I have to wonder if this isn’t equally crazy.
The Conservatives have put forward a motion to extend the mission in Afghanistan to 2011, if NATO comes up with an extra 1,000 troops plus some equipment commitments, like helicopters. Now, as of last August 63 percent of the population felt that their support for the Tories would rise if they pulled troops out of Afghanistan immediately. And a poll on February 6 indicated that opposition is still running high:
“An Angus Reid poll Wednesday shows 76 per cent think Canada is shouldering too much of the burden of NATO's mission and 58 per cent want the mission to end in 2009.”
This comes on top of a report by the Senlis Council think-tank, which says that Afghanistan is on the brink of “state failure.”
But what the Tories are counting on is a promise by the French government of an equally right-wing dirt-bag, Nikolas Sarkozy, that they will pony up more troops and equipment.
They hope that the motion is voted down at the same time the French make the announcement, then they can play it as “the Liberals want to let down our allies in the fight for democracy just as they are stepping up to the plate.” It will become a question of honour and betrayal.
Frankly, it’s a big gamble on the part of the Tories. But big gambles are the product of, if not panic, at least a sense of being backed into a corner. The attempt to burrow into the mainstream has failed and now it’s going to be the single-issue, dirty fight.
The conclusion to all this? Well, there’s an international week of action in the lead up to March 15 – the fifth anniversary of the launch of the war against Iraq. If you want to see the Tories out, the protests on March 15 have to be as big we can make them. They have to help hold the mood steady and stiffen the spines of politicians who are apt to choke at the idea of taking a real stand during an election.
We are propping up a corrupt, vile regime of human rights abusers and druglords using billions of dollars and barrels of blood. It’s the Tories weak spot and we need to hit them where they are weak.